The Washington Post‘s editors take issue with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s accusation that Obama has reneged on his promise to look forward, not backward with regard to investigating and prosecuting intelligence agents:
Mr. Cheney asserted that President Obama had flip-flopped on an earlier promise to shield participants from liability. “We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn’t be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration,” Mr. Cheney told host Chris Wallace. “Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they’re reversing course on that.”
The editors say that’s wrong, but play fast and loose with the facts. First, as evidence that no such promise was made by the president, they cite Eric Holder’s weaselly words that he wouldn’t go after CIA agents who followed the advice of DOJ lawyers. But Cheney is speaking of the president’s betrayal. Now it’s easy to assume that Holder is running the show, given Obama’s shirking of responsibility and the decision to name the special prosecutor while the president was camped out in Martha Vineyard. But Holder’s not the president and was not the subject of Cheney’s complaint. The decision to reinvestigate CIA personnel is, in fact, the quintessential act of looking backward, not forward. The Post‘s editors utterly ignore the president’s own words, which were meant to assure the country, not to mention the CIA, that we wouldn’t be doing the very thing that Holder announced last week—initiating criminal investigations of low-level CIA employees.
Yet the Post editors are forced to concede this: “Mr. Cheney is right when he argues that these incidents already have been investigated; prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and at Justice Department headquarters looked into the abuse allegations and concluded that prosecution was warranted in only one case, involving a CIA contractor.” But they then go on to smear these career prosecutors with the vague accusation that the Bush administration was politicized and that therefore the decision of these prosecutors is suspect. The unsupported and unsupportable attack on the reputation and decision-making of the career prosecutors and the suggestion that they remained silent in the face of meddling from unknown figures in the White House is unconscionable. (A more comprehensive explanation and refutation of this point is here.)
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion (especially on the op-ed pages), but not to his own facts. Let’s be clear about what went down here. Career prosecutors with expertise in these areas examined all the allegations in the 2004 CIA inspector-general report. With the exception of one contractor, they found no basis for criminal action. The matters were returned to the CIA for internal discipline. Congress was briefed on the matter. The president promised the CIA and the country at large that he was interested in looking forward but not back. However, Holder (with the acquiescence of the White House), based on no additional data, has set about to reopen an already completed investigation based on nothing more than the change in administration. This is unprecedented. Moreover, it is the height of “politicization”—eroding the confidence that individuals and other branches of government have that the Justice Department doesn’t change its tune with election returns.
Cheney was precisely right. This is a shameful instance of politicization of justice by Holder’s Justice Department, which is running up quite a record on this score. And the Post editors should be honest with their readers about Holder’s antics rather than throw darts at the former vice president, who in this and many instances has a better grasp of the facts than do his critics.